Have you ever thought about starting your business over again? When my dad asked if I'd write a guest post for his blog, I said, "Sure". When I asked him what he wanted me to write about I got the following response:
"As far as a guest post, doing business has changed; even since SLC Bookkeeping was founded. What would Matt do differently? When would he have taken more risk? Changed priorities? Backed off? Smartest thing he did? Dumbest? Give the reader a peek inside."
He is right; a lot has changed since I started our outsourced bookkeeping company back in 2007. Here is a peek under the hood of my experience with starting and running SLC Bookkeeping.
What would Matt do differently?
I read this and immediately thought of the movie Almost Famous, at the very end of the movie when the interviewer finally gets his chance to interview Russell. The scene went like this:
So, Russell...what do you love about music?
To begin with...everything.
If you asked me what I would do differently it isn't really everything, but definitely a lot of things. Below are some of the bigger things that stick out in my mind about what I would do differently.
Focus on people and processes - This one is so obvious, but I overlooked it in the beginning. We are in the service industry so it is all about people and processes. The key to scaling a service based business is people. I didn't concern myself enough with constantly recruiting top talent and training people correctly. Our first two hires were so perfect and went so well that I thought I was a genius. I was wrong as we struggled with our next several new hires. We didn't train people the right way and it almost destroyed our business. Today we take hiring very seriously. We are very selective and follow a hiring and training process to make a new hire's chance of success as high as possible.
Quit my other job sooner - I wish that I got serious sooner. When I first started SLC Bookkeeping I had another full time job, which is not uncommon. The problem is that I didn't cut the cord early enough. If I had I may have avoided a lot of stress and health problems. One of the good things about taking the plunge and leaving your job to start a business is that you are all in; you are committed to making it work.
Learn to sell - I should have taken sales much more seriously. Knowing what I do now I probably could have closed a lot more deals, avoided working with unqualified prospects, and scaled much more quickly. Thanks to my dad and my brother, our sales team and I got a pretty kick ass sales training and ongoing mentoring for practically nothing. Sales solve every issue.
When would I have taken more risk?
I probably should have been more risky all of the time, but I'm a very risk averse person. In general I wish I would have taken more risk when we were smaller because I wasn't risking much. I think people make bad decisions when something negative happens. As an example when you lose a client or something bad happens I feel that the knee jerk reaction of most business owners is to cut expenses, but that is not always the best solution. When something negative happens sometimes the right move is to increase expenses (invest in the business) to try and increase sales. As I said above, sales solve everything.
When do you change priorities?
Constantly. Until you have nothing to do you should always be shifting your priorities. I constantly find myself referring back to the E-Myth in my head. In his book Michael Gerber explains an elegantly simple way to use your organizational chart to grow. When you start your business you should draw out your organizational chart to align with your vision and mission. At first your name will most likely appear on every position. As you grow your business you will slowly replace your name with a new employee's name for each position. Slowly you will move responsibility off of yourself and you will move up the organizational chart.
Running a successful business is hard...really freaking hard. Most business owners don't realize how difficult it is to succeed and therefore they fail. I think the main reason that so many businesses fail is because most owners try and do too much. Rather than an owner focusing on growing a kick ass team that is better than them at every job they micromanage them and don't invest in training. They take the mentality of "Oh just let me do it because it is faster if I just do it myself." That is a great way to grow a business out of business.
Understand what you are good at, what you should be working on and constantly be changing your priorities.
When and how to back off?
You should back off when you find someone that is better than you at a particular role in your business. Attracting and retaining top talent is crucial if you want to run a successful business; especially in the service industry. If you are a service-based business you are in the business of people, so you better invest heavily in that area.
I take employee recruitment very seriously and this is an area that I didn't pay enough attention to early on. In addition to online employment advertisements, we also always have all current job openings listed on our SLC Bookkeeping careers page. This has resulted in a steady stream of qualified job candidates. Now when we need to hire, we rarely need to even advertise as we have a list of qualified candidates.
Now for the how aspect; how do you back off? This is as easy as having a vision and being disciplined. Having the ability to say, "no" is huge if you are going to back off. You need to learn to delegate and reject tasks when they fall out of the things you should be working on.
Want to really get aggressive with backing off? I highly recommend this decision making flow chart that was in Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work Week. The flow chart is extremely effective for making decisions. Click on the link and follow it the next time you are presented with an activity, you might be surprised with the result. I practice what I preach; this flow chart is my current computer background picture and has been for over 6 months now.
Smartest thing I did?
The smartest thing I did was to stay true to the reason that I started the business in the first place, which was freedom. I honestly started my business because I wanted the freedom to fish and ski more. I bought my first house 8 hours from my office because it was on a good trout fishing river.
Starting a business was never about the money for me, at least not as my #1 priority. I wanted personal freedom and I wanted to help other small businesses grow through their bookkeeping.
Without a doubt the smartest thing I did was follow my passion and stay true to it.
How about you in your business?
What are some of the things you would have done differently?
Successes and failures?
***Proud father warning!***
As you may know, I like entrepreneurs. I appreciate the flashy entrepreneurs that can get VC's to give them $100M, but I live for the scrappy ones that start part time at night after their day job. They get a customer, deliver and delight. Then do it again. Before you know it, they're hiring and growing and they look back and say, "Look what I started." Thanks, Matt.
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